Editorial: A call for compassion

Special Olympics athlete and global messenger John Franklin Stephens wrote an open letter to Ann Coulter in response to a tweet she published during Monday’s presidential debate. Coulter wrote, “I highly approve of Romney’s decision to be kind and gentle to the retard.”

Coulter’s comment is a display of irresponsibility in an age of Twitter. There is a difference between published and private material and without much forethought, Coulter provided a grade-school insult without even the slightest attempt to provide any context. Coulter, usually proud of the offensive things she said, made an off-the-cuff mark that was immature, highly offensive and had no merit to speak of.

Even if she isn’t the biggest fan of the president, it is unfair to imply that a president with an Ivy League education is somehow intellectually inferior. President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney might say and do things that aren’t so wise, but it would be disingenuous to their highly-educated backgrounds. It’s unclear whether Coulter’s comment was a joke or if it was an observation based on misguided prejudices. But she didn’t use a word like “moron” or “idiot” to describe the president. She chose a prejudiced-charged word to, as Stephens said, link the president to “people (like) him.” She used the word not once, but twice, in a second tweet.

Yet, no matter how pedestrian or juvenile her comment is, it is more important to honor the open-mindedness, not to mention thoughtfulness, of Stephens’ letter.

Stephens, who has Down syndrome, provided insight on an issue that many people don’t think about. Unlike Coulter, he provided context to the issue, which only reinforced how offensive Coulter’s comment was. Stephens tone wasn’t angry; but rather it was educated and even-tempered. He wanted to simply sit Coulter down to explain to her the adversities that those with an “intellectually disability” endure. They are “bullied as child(ren) by people” like Coulter, but rise above it. They “struggle to be thought about everything” and they “receive bad health care, live in low housing with very little income and still manage to see life as a wonderful gift.”

Stephens displayed immense restraint, while Coulter acted impulsively. The ability to rise above adversity and negativity is something we can use more of. The ability to show humility and concern for others, instead of ourselves, demonstrates a level of emotional and societal maturity. While a debate can be had as to whether Coulter’s words were politically correct, that is not the important takeaway of this exchange. Instead, the benefit of this sordid exchange should be about how we interact with others.

Do you show restraint when necessary and consider the reaction to your words, hateful or not? For those in the public, couldn’t we just show a little tenderness?


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